Buddhism and Gender: Through My Lens

Buddhism is considered as a philosophy not as a religion because it doesn’t belief in central creator. Buddhism focuses on the well-being of individuals to attain the absolute peace and never ending happiness, which they called “enlightenment”. An enlightened being is one who can live without suffering. Our judgment elicits emotions, misconceptions, expectations and anticipations about others. This all happens because of our ignorance. The Buddha says that, ignorance is root of every suffering. The main aim of Buddhist doctrine is to know what is ignorance, how to eliminate ignorance so that suffering will end and one will achieve the state of serenity and peace. According to Buddhism, to start the journey towards enlightenment the Buddhist philosophies and paths should be followed. Some basic teachings of Buddhism, to name to few, are the Four Noble Truths, the Four Seals of Dharma and the Five Aggregates. 
The Four Noble Truths are as follow, The Truth of suffering, The Truth of the Cause of Suffering, The Truth of the End of Suffering and the Truth of the Path leading to the End of Suffering. The Four Noble Truths are the first ever teachings Buddha gave to his fellows after achieving enlightenment. The first noble truth presents the pessimistic reality about life. It encourages humans to accept the truth that life is suffering: all the material possessions, all the luxuries, and all the comforts of this life are causes of suffering. The first truth opens our eyes and mind to see ongoing suffering in our daily life. The second truth: the truth of cause of suffering, says that the hunger, the ignorance, the attachment to others, the craving to have more and more are causes of suffering. The first and second truth are explaining and portraying the pessimistic reality of life, but it doesn’t mean that Buddhism is all about negative. The third truth tells us that it is possible to bring end to this suffering. One has to change the behaviors and the responses towards life and worldly things in order to reduce the suffering. It is important to know that continuously looking for something, the mass consumption and to have the comfort of life leads us to suffering. There is nothing outside which needs to be change in order to end the suffering.  It is all about changing the way we think and perceive things in our mind. If we will change the way we think and response to things then suffering will be end. The fourth truth is cessation of suffering. It teaches that nothing is permanent, accepting that change is possible, at any time anything even ourselves will change, therefore, not taking things for granted is the path to end the suffering. This path will lead us to the enlightenment: the absolute peace. So in a nutshell, the Four Noble Truths explain that suffering is there; the important thing is to accept it, understand it, know the cause of it, and come out of it. For example, hiding the pain will not help us to get relief. Once we will know the origin of pain and diagnose the cause of pain then we will able to have a treatment to get relief from the pain. 

The Four Seals of Dharma is very important Buddhist doctrine. Many Buddhist teachings are self-contradicting because different teachings are for different audiences in different times and contexts. Buddhist scholars claim that the Four Seals of Dharma are applicable for all kinds of audiences in any time period. The Four Seals of Dharma are as follows: everything is impermanent, all emotions are painful, everything is empty and selfless, and Nirvana is absolute peace. If we closely examine the world and the phenomenon around us we can see that everything is continuously changing. For example, the changes we encounter from birth to death. Nothing is permanent in this world; some things take less time and others take longer to change but everything is changing. The second seal, all emotions are painful because of attachment and craving. We enslave ourselves under unending floods of emotions and lose our freedom. We human beings are similar to caged birds. In South Asia birds are domesticate, mostly pigeons. Wild birds are caught and their wing feathers are cut so that they can’t fly and kept them in a cage for few weeks. Food and water is provided. After a few weeks, when birds are released, they don’t fly away even after having their feathers and freedom back. It is because now these birds are attached to this new environment. These birds suffer due to ignorance. When we were born we were also like these free birds. Then we were labeled by our family or society. The very first label given to us is gender/sex and then religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, creed, cast and so on. If we believe in the third seal of Dharma, emptiness; everything is empty of self. There is nothing like “I” and “You” we all are same and we all are impermanent. Then we will not suffer. The understanding of selflessness will lead us to Nirvana, the absolute peace. 

In the context of gender, the noble truths say that life is suffering, and labeling things and people into metaphysical groups such as gender is a cause of suffering. The cessation of this suffering is accepting selflessness. Hence, after accepting the selflessness people will not be egocentric and individuals will be directed towards the path of the end of suffering. Finally, individuals will be enlightened. 

The four seals of dharma say that all things are impermanent. For example, the human body or the gender associated with the physical appearance of an individual is all conditional; it is not based on any essence. It also says that all emotions are painful. Gender and the emotions associated with it cause pain. For instance, being a woman in a patriarchal society I am expected to behave differently than my brother. The label given to me from the society elicits certain emotions such as the pain of not able to enjoy my freedom fully, the pain of having limited access to resources, the pain of not able to make decisions for myself, the pain of taking orders from male counterparts in almost all day to day chores and so on. If we understand that everything is impermanent and all emotions are painful, then there will be no labeling like gender. There will be no associations and no expectations. Understanding first two seals will lessen ignorance and ego. There will be no identifications like self or gender. Subsequently, one will achieve or at least will be directed towards more-equitable gender attitudes.  

The human body is the form, and when we see any person we develop judgments like beauty, ugly, funny, kind, rude, male, female, etc. Along with other judgments the perception of gender varies across countries, cultures, and societies. Most of the times around the globe women are considered weak physically and mentally. This kind of behavior about woman becomes part of consciousness. Once any idea becomes part of the conscious mind, individuals tend to do this more frequently. The repeated actions become behaviors and when behaviors are not change on time they becomes need of people. In fact, most of the people believe that, differentiating people into metaphysical groups is needed to run the society.  

The Buddhist teachings are interlinked. For instance, the second truth talks about the causes of sufferings. According to four seals of dharma all emotions are painful. If one understands that material objects, forms, feelings, perceptions, and emotions are impermanent, then causes of suffering will end. The path to end of suffering is accepting that everything is impermanent. Then all clinging to worldly things will be meaningless. It will destroy the ego and diminish the cravings for worldly prosperity, social status, and power. As a result there will be no more labeling and discriminations against each other. The society will be more equalitarian. There will not be division of people on the name of gender and sex, socioeconomic status and class standards, no cast and creed, color will not differentiate people, no wars for power and oil, then the world will be a happier place. There will be no afflictive emotions and no pain; one will have the absolute peace: Nirvana. 

The main ideology of Buddhist teachings says everything is illusion. The realization of selflessness is accepting the impermanence of all apparently permanent things in this world. Buddhist teachings promote the search for the truth of our existence. Buddhist philosophy is similar to the law of conservation of energy. The law of conservation of energy states that, “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another.” The second seal of dharma says that nothing is permanent. For example, before our birth we were a half-cell, and even before that we were some atoms or sub particles of atom. When the two half cells from our both parents came together, we were produced. One day we will die. Our body will be rotten. We will be decomposed and again will turn into atoms and sub particle of atoms and even smaller. Some of our body will be converted to energy. This whole process demonstrates that everything is impermanent and it keeps on changing, but can’t be destroyed. Put more concisely, everything is impermanent, but also not destroyable. I wonder, does it means our existence will be always there but in different impermanent forms?  Then who are we, the body or the energy from which this body is made up? Does it also mean that gender is not permanent but it always exists in different impermanent forms? 

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